‘I didn’t think twice’: Medical First Responder training allows medical student to help man in distress

Katie Koenig
Katie Koenig

Katie Koenig returned from a vacation on Mackinac Island with her mother on a recent summer day and headed to a routine eye doctor appointment. But when she got to the W.K. Kellogg Eye Center in Ann Arbor, she saw something alarming.

Koenig, a second-year medical student, arrived to find a man lying in the parking lot. A woman was crouched next to him, yelling for help.

“I didn’t think twice,” Koenig said. “I jumped out of the car.”

Koenig, who was not wearing shoes for the long drive, sprang into action. 

“I ran out there and started helping,” Koenig said. “I took his pulse right away and he didn’t have a pulse. I started compressions.”

Koenig performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the man for nearly 20 minutes on the 90-degree day until paramedics arrived. Once paramedics got to the scene, she continued performing manual compressions until the first responders wrapped an external CPR machine around the man’s chest. Paramedics worked on the man while Koenig comforted his distressed daughter who had brought him to the appointment.

Ultimately, the 88-year-old man died. Although she wishes it would have had a better outcome, Koenig said she takes pride in doing what she could to try to help him and is thankful she had the training to do it.

“I saw someone down and knew that they needed help and sprang into action,” Koenig said. “Our instructors made us do so much crazy practicing over the course of months so I didn’t have to think about it. I found myself singing Stayin’ Alive out loud to get the right rhythm.”

The Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” is used by WMed and many other CPR instructors to help participants find the speed of which to perform CPR.

Koenig did exactly what she was trained to do as a first-year medical student, said Dr. Bill Fales, associate professor of Emergency Medicine and division director of EMS and Disaster Medicine at the medical school. Sudden cardiac arrest can be a survivable condition, but in order for someone to survive many things have to be just right, Dr. Fales said.

“When you make the decision that bystander CPR is needed you can’t predict the outcome,” Dr. Fales said. “You go forward with doing everything you can to try to optimize the person’s chance of survival.”

Koenig, like the medical school’s other students, received training and was certified as a medical first responder during her first year at the medical school. The seven-week course qualifies students for state and national certification as medical first responders. MFR training is part of the medical school’s curriculum, which provides early exposure to the clinical setting, and the course equips students to respond when someone is ill or injured and provides instruction on basic procedures, including taking vital signs, performing CPR, bandaging and wound care, among other things.

The training continues for students after their first year with an advanced cardiac life support course, along with field trainings, and training in the medical school’s Simulation Center.

Koenig said the capstone event for Medical First Responder training, an all-day event that consists of several emergency scenarios, including a mass-casualty incident, a water rescue, a car extrication, and rappelling down a building, gave her the confidence to help someone in need. During the capstone event’s simulations, students take turns leading the response.

“We learned that we can do this and that if you’re in a situation you don’t have to be nervous. You’re trained well and you know how to act. Just do what you’re trained to do.”

WMed is one of the few medical schools in the country that conducts MFR training as soon as students start their first year.

“We think that all doctors should understand basic life-saving skills,” said Dr. Bill Fales. “The very first week of medical school when we start MFR training we introduce the idea of teamwork and how teams work together in health care. We want them to be confident enough in their skills that they’re willing to jump in. A lot of the things we do that are mission critical like CPR and airway skills, we develop a muscle memory and it’s almost instinctive when they are presented with that situation.”